Jonquel Jones: This Sun is Also a Star

Jonquel Jones Is a Star

At this point in this young WNBA season, there has been no more impactful player than Jonquel Jones. After sitting out the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, Jones has been everything for the Sun: a leader, a post presence, and a reliable rebounder, powering the team to a league-best 8-2 mark. She’s the only player in the league averaging 20-and-10, her 21.6 points per game (PPG) fourth and her 10.4 rebounds per game (RPG) first. JJ is invaluable, near the top of every statistical category, scratching her name alongside the league’s best on both sides of the ball. We’ll dive into all that shortly, but we need to start with the range.

Take a look at this play from opening weekend against the Atlanta Dream. Briann January has the ball at the top of the key, while the Sun’s two stars, Jones and DeWanna Bonner, run an action on the weak side. Jones sets a screen on Bonner’s defender, Odyssey Sims, and Bonner sprints to the elbow, faking like she’s going to flare out for a pass at the three-point line. Instead, she curls back and sets a pick of her own on Tianna Hawkins, who was marked on JJ. Jones backpedals, setting behind the arc as January’s pass hits her in stride. Before Sims can recover on the switch, the shot is up and swishes through.

“The shot versatility for someone her size is honestly absurd,” Nekias Duncan wrote for Basketball News on the above play. “How many bigs are getting these kind of actions ran for them?”

Jones is setting career-highs nearly across the board, and her teammates love the consistent energy she takes the court with on a nightly basis. “It’s incredible, you know what you’re going to get out of her,” veteran point guard Jasmine Thomas said of Jones. “She gives us a steady player to play through.”

 

From the Post to the Perimeter

Jones’ offensive game contains more options than an all-you-can-eat buffet. She eats from everywhere on the court, scoring with ease on stepback threes, athletic drives, and one-footed fadeways. It’s not just that she can score from anywhere; JJ’s efficiency ranks her with the WNBA’s elite. 

Among players who have taken at least 50 shots, Jones is fifth in field goal percentage at 56.8 percent. She trails four other frontcourt players: Sylvia Fowles, Liz Cambage, Nneka Ogwumike, and Brittney Griner. Of those four, only Ogwumike takes more than one three per game (hitting 33.3 percent of her looks). Jones is taking 4.7 threes per game and hitting them at a 48.9 percent clip, third behind only Nia Coffey and Stephanie Talbot’s 53.8 percent (among players who have attempted at least 20 shots from behind the arc). Her 68.4 true shooting percentage ranks fifth in the WNBA, and she’s doing her damage from everywhere.

JJ attributes her early-season success to her reinforced focus this year. “My confidence doesn’t waver,” she told Winsidr. “Being able to be mentally prepared and understanding that I can get to the places I want to get to on the court.”

According to Synergy, Jones has scored 216 points on 189 possessions, her 1.143 points per possession landing her in the W’s 96th percentile. She’s hit nearly half of the 4.7 three-point attempts she takes each game, all while forcing the frontcourt players of other teams away from the basket. 

Coach Curt Miller is effusive in praising his star, highlighting her versatility. “You can play her inside and out, with her shooting the three the way she is early in the season. It’s a lot of fun. If they try to take away the outside game, you try to get her inside.” Still, JJ’s gamebreaking matchup-proof offensive style isn’t the only excellent part of her game. Miller goes on to call Jones “the best rebounder in her time.” In Sylvia Fowles’ WNBA, that’s a strong claim to make, but let’s explore the numbers.

Cleaning the Glass

According to Across the Timeline, during her five-year career, Jones has led the WNBA in rebounding twice. She’s currently on track to win a third time, though her 10.4 RPG only slightly edges out Griner’s 10.3 RPG; they are the only two WNBA players currently averaging double-figure rebounds. In 2017, Jones secured the Connecticut Sun’s all-time single-season rebounding record when she pulled down 403 boards. In fact, it’s the second-greatest rebounding season in WNBA history, topped only by Fowles’ 404 rebounds the following year.

This season, the Sun’s identity is on the defensive end of the floor, and a major part of that is cleaning the glass. Through 10 games, Connecticut is allowing just 25.7 field goal makes on 64.1 field goal attempts, both the W’s best marks. They also lead the league in opponents’ rebounding, limiting other teams to just 29.4 RPG, as opposed to the 37.5 RPG they pull down themselves. That 8.1 RPG advantage is by far the largest in the WNBA.

The Bri Jones/Jonquel Jones tandem has wreaked havoc on opposing frontcourts all year long, and they take pride in winning the battle of the boards against the biggest challenges. They’ve shown off against the vaunted Phoenix Mercury frontcourt several times: on May 16, the pair out-rebounded Phoenix’s Griner and Brianna Turner 22-12; when the teams faced off again five days later, they won the frontcourt matchup 18-10, while totaling 48 rebounds to just 24. In fact, they’ve come out on top in corralling the carom in seven of their 10 contests. In the three they did not control the statistic, Connecticut has won just once while suffering their only two losses of the season.

Surviving the Euros

Although the Sun have been rolling, they are about to face their first big in-season adversity. Jonquel Jones is leaving for a few weeks to compete in the Eurobasket tournament, which potentially plays through June 27. 

After her last game against the Liberty, in which she scored a career-high 31 points on a deadly efficient 12-of-16 shooting, Jones expressed how difficult it will be to leave the Sun. “I understand the importance of it, and I’m proud to represent the Bosnian National Team, but it’s a tough time to be going. We’re playing really good basketball and I have a good flow right now.” The Sun have a smaller margin for error than most (if not all teams) in the W. While about half the league is only rostering 11 instead of 12, one of Connecticut’s spots is filled by Alyssa Thomas, who is out for the season recovering from an Achilles injury. With just 10 players suiting up each night, every roster move—injury or overseas commitment—triggers a hardship exception, which occurs when a team’s active roster slips to nine. Veteran Emma Cannon has been brought in to fill JJ’s roster spot, though filling her shoes is an impossible task.

In this piece, I’ve thrown a lot of numbers at you, so here’s a concise table to showcase just how much production Connecticut will be losing during Jones’ absence.

See Also

“We know [Jones is] gonna be back, so we just have to hold it down until she gets back,” Bonner told Winsidr. “Somebody can’t hold that. We just have to chip in and try to buy some wins while she’s gone. We can’t get too down.”

It’ll be impossible, of course, to recreate JJ’s production. According to Basketball Reference’s metrics, Jonquel Jones leads the W in win shares at 2.9. Second place? A’ja Wilson of the Aces at 1.9. “That same win-share separation (1.0) is the difference between Wilson’s second place and New York’s Sami Whitcomb’s 27th place, showing again just how dominant JJ has been.”

Miller mentioned that Bri Jones “will be magnified without JJ.” Bonner is more than capable of absorbing more of an offensive load. The backcourt play of veteran leader Jasmine Thomas, Briann January, and Natisha Hiedeman is sure to pick up some slack. We’re sure to see even more hustle out of the ever-hustling two-way rookie, DiJonai Carrington.

Assuming Bosnia doesn’t get bounced early, Jones will likely miss the next five games: three against the Chicago Sky (who are attempting to dig out of an early season hole), one against the Seattle Storm (who defeated Connecticut in overtime earlier this season), and one against the Dallas Wings (who are packed with talent and primed to catch fire on any given night). 

With almost a third of the season in the books, JJ has established herself as the far-and-away MVP frontrunner. How Connecticut manages without her over the next handful of games might even strengthen her case, but at least she leaves with the team atop the standings. This much is clear: in 2021, Jonquel Jones has put the league on notice.

Note: A special thank you to Christine Salek for captioning the presser videos. They have an affordable subtitling service, and I highly recommend reaching out to them via Twitter (@enbybird) for all your accessibility needs!

Article illustraton by Rhea Patel (@rheapatelart)

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